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Old 10-09-2021, 07:38   #1
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Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

I note that the advent of replacement of the mainsail offers the best opportunity to review and update how the sail and boom are rigged. Many of the choices are interrelated -- battens increase the need for track and cars, for example.

With an eye towards cruising particularly (not racing), how do you approach these choices:

1) Choice of Dacron vs. cruising laminates
2) Number and depth of reef points
3) Full, partial, or 2+2 battens
4) Shape control features that are part of the sail including flattening reefs or a Cunningham
5) Size and cut compromises such as a higher tack angle for extra bimini/solar panel clearance at the expense of drive
6) Features for controlling the sail during/after the douse i.e. lazyjacks, Dutchman system
7) Luff attachment mechanism e.g. slugs, cars on a track, or the middle road of roller slugs
8) How the tack reefing cringle will be rigged, will a reefing hook be used or just a tack reefing line
9) Topping lift, rigid vang, both? If a topping lift, controlled from the mast like a halyard or from the end of the boom?
10) which lines are led to the cockpit and whether there are auxiliary clutches and a winch on the boom to allow the alternative of control at either location

Any boat when new will have these choices made already but that is not a guarantee they are made well or with cruising in mind.
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Old 13-09-2021, 07:51   #2
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

It's time for you to talk to a sailmaker you trust. This is their expertise and they'll be able to explain to you the trade-offs and budgetary implications. If you want to mail-order your sail from China, better make sure you know what you want and need.
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Old 14-09-2021, 03:40   #3
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

Another detail on the process of buying new sails: I found the process extremely confusing and every loft seems to be hell-bent on offering different options to make comparison nearly impossible for laymen. There seems to be no such thing as a standard sail - at least if you don't have a very common brand boat like a Bavaria 40.

In the end I had to trust someone and go by his recommendations. Unfortunately I didn't make the best choice of vendor, but the sailloft they used still were good. I'd better have contacted the sailloft directly for less hassles.

Another aspect I learned is that evaluating the difference between "perfect" and "good enough" is really hard. If perfect is only 2% better than good enough, good enough will do.
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Old 14-09-2021, 04:35   #4
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

Your questions are not all that technically difficult to discuss, but the answers will be different depending on an owner's priorities. You do specify a 'non-racing use but that still leaves a relatively wide range of different priorities between cost and speed and ease of handling. Let me take a shot at outlining things below, but I don't pretend my answers are authoritative for everyone - different strokes for different folks with different priorities here, none of them 'wrong'.

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Originally Posted by Jammer View Post

1) Choice of Dacron vs. cruising laminates

Generally for under 40' boats, good dacron is the best choice. It is durable, relatively inexpensive, and (well made) has good shape. If your priorities even as a cruiser goes very strongly toward performance/speed, there can be an argument for a more sophisticated cloth used in the headsail. Once you get above a certain size (mid-40'ers generally) the loads on the sail start to get to the point that dacron needs to be quite heath to handle the loads and there is a breakpoint where generally more sophisticated cloth can start to make sense as easier to handle and maintaining shape better.

2) Number and depth of reef points

The deepest reef should reduce the luff by 50% (it can be 40% if you are just planning coastal cruising). How many reefs to have to get to that deepest reef depends mostly on how tender the boat is - generally, if it is tender and heels easily then 3 reefs, if it is stiff then 2 reefs.
If you fall in the camp that likes to have more 'gears', so you can always have the boat in exactly the right one then 3 reefs even for a stiff boat but it does mean more lines to handle and more patches on the sail (which make it heavier and tend to distort the fabric more).


3) Full, partial, or 2+2 battens

For cruising long battens accomplish 3 things - stop the sail flogging, make it easier to flake neatly, and offer support for better shape as the sail ages (and because of less flogging usually makes it last longer).
You need more expensive hardware and more weight the more full battens you have. So generally, all partial battens or 2+2 for smaller boats (say under 30'); 2+2 or all full for 40'ish boats; and all full for bigger (where the better hardware also makes the sail easier to hoist and drop in any case. 2+2 is a nice compromise and not a bad choice for any cruising use.


4) Shape control features that are part of the sail including flattening reefs or a Cunningham

Pretty much any mainsail should have a cunningham hole, and then it is up to you the sailor whether you use it or not. Generally cruisers do not use them as they are mostly designed for racers who want their mainsail hoist to reach the maxmimum height with a low tension luff for light air and then they use the cunningham to add luff tension as the wind rises because they can not hoist the halyard any more (because it would take the sail over its max allowed hoist).

Flattening reefs - generally not necessary and generate extra lines and patches on the sail. Generally just make the cruising sail flat enough to start with. But there might be specific boat/sail situations where one might be useful - but would be unusal.


5) Size and cut compromises such as a higher tack angle for extra bimini/solar panel clearance at the expense of drive

Well if you have to, then you have to. But generally, my suggestion would be not to compromise the mainsail - it is a sailboat and you will have more fun and be safer if it sails well. But this is simply a matter of the owner's priorites.

6) Features for controlling the sail during/after the douse i.e. lazyjacks, Dutchman system

Bigger boats, bigger sails, harder to flake, then yes definitely. If you have no problem flaking, covering, etc then perhaps not.


7) Luff attachment mechanism e.g. slugs, cars on a track, or the middle road of roller slugs

Basically a matter of size, battens and cost. Roller bearing cars simply work best but are most expensive and heaviest. Solid slider cars work quite well and are (slightly) more reliable than roller bearing cars and are a nice compromise point but are still relatively expensive.
Non-car systems can easily work well on smaller sails with only partial battens - relatively inexpensive and easy for owner to fiddle with/repair.
This is one where (a) if the sail goes up and down easily with a simple system you should stay with it, but if it does not go up and down easily then you can and probably should upgrade and more money gets you less friction.


8) How the tack reefing cringle will be rigged, will a reefing hook be used or just a tack reefing line

Hooks basically suck. Use a dyneema strop with a clip - easier to operate and not at all expensive. Or use 2 line reefing.

9) Topping lift, rigid vang, both? If a topping lift, controlled from the mast like a halyard or from the end of the boom?

If you have a big roach on your mainsail you would prefer not to have a topping lift, so go rigid vang. Otherwise, honestly really does not matter - rigid vang is nice but extra cost.

10) which lines are led to the cockpit and whether there are auxiliary clutches and a winch on the boom to allow the alternative of control at either location

pure owners choice/decision - will usually have already been made for you, will need added hardware usually if you want to lead reefs back to the cockpit. On bigger boats especially ones with hard dodgers, I like lines led back to be operated under hard dodger. But I think any offshore sailor should be comfortable going up to the mast in any weather to drop in a reef.

Any boat when new will have these choices made already but that is not a guarantee they are made well or with cruising in mind.
Sail fabric is the most confounding question. There is unfortunately very little honest information out there about the technical specs of the many sail fabrics, and even many sailmakers don't know the actual facts and just make up used car quality sales pitches. This is all unfortunate because it is a technical question with factual answers and an independent tester could produce truly useful information, but it would be a lot of work and no one has the incentive to do it, so we are just left with salesmen waving their arms in the air with mostly bogus claims.
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Old 14-09-2021, 05:04   #5
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

For cruising I think it is really valuable to have three reef points with a fairly deep third reef. Some sailmakers, even ones I respect a lot, will advocate two reef points saying if conditions are strong enough to need the third reef then you really should be using a storm sail rather than subjecting your mainsail to abuse. The counter argument is twofold. First, as cruisers we sometimes drop to the third reef well before conditions demand it. For example if conditions call for second reef but we are offshore we will generally drop to the third reef before dark sacrificing some overnight speed in exchange for obviating the need to put in a reef in the dark if the wind strengthens. It is always easier to shake out a reef in lightening conditions than put one in in heavier seas. Secondly, if conditions are changing from second reef to third reef conditions do you really want to be up on deck trying to drop and stow your main and rig a storm sail, or would you rather just put in a reef.

If you have sufficient blocks, clutches, etc. separate tack and clew lines for all reef points led to the cockpit is the way to go. No need to leave the cockpit and much less friction than a single line system.

If you don't have enough blocks, clutches, etc. for separate lines for all of your tack points then I second the notion of using a strop with a clip. On our Tartan we only had enough hardware for lines on two tack points so used lines for the second and third reef tacks and a strop and clip for the first reef.

On the topping lift question I like having both a rigid, or gas strut, vang and topping lift. We mostly rely on the vang but love having the topping lift as it gets used for all sorts of other things such as winching me up the mast on the bosuns chair, holding up a sun shade, lifting batteries from the dock to the deck, etc. If you don't have a vang I don't think I'd add one but I certainly wouldn't remove one in favor of a topping lift.
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Old 14-09-2021, 06:17   #6
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

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Originally Posted by dougweibel View Post
For cruising I think it is really valuable to have three reef points with a fairly deep third reef. Some sailmakers, even ones I respect a lot, will advocate two reef points saying if conditions are strong enough to need the third reef then you really should be using a storm sail rather than subjecting your mainsail to abuse. The counter argument is twofold.
Another approach is the one I inherited on my boat with only 2 reefs:
  • A 3rd reef that reduced the sail area quite a lot
  • a 1.5th reef which is deeper than the usual 1st reef but more shallow than the 2nd one.
If you're more into comfort cruising than into performance, the difference between the 1st and the 2nd reef aren't that great. Also in areas like the Alboran Sea in the Mediterranean, you either have too little wind (up to just right) or too much wind. Usually when the wind picks up so I can't use the full sails, I directly reef to the 2nd reef. Usually I'd have to reef again inside an hour anyway.

As a side note, the 2nd (and deepest reef) is placed just in such way, that the mainsail head is down at the level of the staysail forestay. This balances the main quite well with the staysail and makes a comfortable ride even in stronger winds. Seems the original owner knew what he was doing when he specced the rig back in the 80ies.

Another side note, I did a short back of the envelope calculation of the windage being bare-poled and having a try-sail. Turns out the boom with the flaked and tied down mainsail still has enough windage so a trysail isn't really necessary to complement the storm-jib.
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Old 14-09-2021, 08:16   #7
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

A good sailmaker will be happy to discuss all these options. Be aware that sometimes the recommendation is based on salesmanship needs.

In general, go for the simplest solution. Most labor saving add-ons actually add more complexity rather than making it much easier.

Here is my list. Not my recommendation for you, we are on the extreme end of the simpler is better scale, but this is how we do it. Keeping things simple make sail handling quick and less frustrating, in our view (and it is part of the reason that we've been able to keep doing this for 35 years).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jammer View Post
...
1) Choice of Dacron vs. cruising laminates For racing I have expensive laminates, for cruising quality Dacron is fine. It is durable and cost effective.
2) Number and depth of reef pointsThree reef points. Make the sail strong enough to withstand heavy weather with the third reef, you won't need a tri-sail
3) Full, partial, or 2+2 battensTo reduce weight aloft (track and cars) I use regular length battens
4) Shape control features that are part of the sail including flattening reefs or a CunninghamFlattening, reef, cunningham, and outhaul are valuable.
5) Size and cut compromises such as a higher tack angle for extra bimini/solar panel clearance at the expense of driveDo what is needed to make it fit, give plenty of room for when you need to sheet it hard.
6) Features for controlling the sail during/after the douse i.e. lazyjacks, Dutchman systemWe don't use any of these but if you must, lazy jacks seem simplest
7) Luff attachment mechanism e.g. slugs, cars on a track, or the middle road of roller slugsOur mainsails use a luff rope in a groove. Primitive, but simple.
8) How the tack reefing cringle will be rigged, will a reefing hook be used or just a tack reefing lineA hook is fine
9) Topping lift, rigid vang, both? If a topping lift, controlled from the mast like a halyard or from the end of the boom?A rigid vang or hydraulic vang
10) which lines are led to the cockpit and whether there are auxiliary clutches and a winch on the boom to allow the alternative of control at either locationHalyard and boom vang led to cockpit, other controls are cleats at the mast/boom. No winches anywhere forward of the cockpit....
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Old 14-09-2021, 21:02   #8
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

There you have it.
Breaking Waves is a well known high milage sailor giving you good advice and Wingsail, another high milage well known sailor giving you different good advice.
In other words, you kind of have to decide what works best for you.
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Old 15-09-2021, 06:16   #9
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Re: Mainsail best design and rigging practices (non-roller furling)

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Originally Posted by Joli View Post
There you have it.
Breaking Waves is a well known high milage sailor giving you good advice and Wingsail, another high milage well known sailor giving you different good advice.
In other words, you kind of have to decide what works best for you.

The advice they posted is, for the most part, not in conflict, and it's well reasoned enough that it's clear why they recommend what they do, particularly in the context of their other posts, the kind of sailing they do, and their approach.


I reject the idea that this is all a personal decision like choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream. I also reject the idea that the best approach is to go into the nearest sail loft, tell them how much money you have, and blindly follow their advice.


Cruiser's Forum is an interesting place. We have threads with hundreds of posts on anchoring. We have threads with hundreds of posts on pirate flags. We have threads with hundreds of posts on where to dump the holding tank, on what kind of house batteries to use, on derelict boats, and on what size boat is too big.


But ask a question about sails and, well, crickets. And a couple of insightful posts, for which I am grateful.
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